New Arrivals

Summer is always a busy season on our little farm.  This summer, though, is probably the busiest I’ve experienced since I was in college.  My younger two kids and I were gone the better part of two weeks in June for Bible Bowl tournaments, and my oldest daughter and I are soon headed to Haiti (hopefully) for her first mission trip.  I say “hopefully” because Haiti is fairly unstable right now with recent rioting over the proposed removal of fuel subsidies, which would result in skyrocketing fuel prices.  Needless to say, that situation is taking up more of my brain space than I’d like to admit.

Anywho, good news is always welcome in my world, and we had some very unexpected good news yesterday.  Two fluffy chicks greeted my son with noisy peeps yesterday morning!  I love babies of almost anything (except maybe possums and raccoons…just because I know they’ll grow up to terrorize our flocks and gardens), and surprise babies are even more special.  We had a surprise chick a few weeks ago, but it unfortunately didn’t make it.  We think the roosters may have had something to do with that.

To increase survival odds of these new arrivals, we relocated them and two of the broody hens to our old chicken run, temporarily dubbing it the Maternity Ward.  They’re all tucked safely into the coop and seem to be enjoying their new space.  I get a kick out of watching the mommas try to stay between us and their babies.  Those little ones are under a faceful of their momma’s feathers more often than not!

To add to the festivities, we got a call from the U.S. Postal Service this morning to let us know the broilers we ordered last spring are in.  These little ones (50 total) take a lot more care and attention.  It took me about an hour to get them set up in their temporary residence in our garage and to make sure they knew how to drink from the nipple watering system.  Once they’re big enough, we will transition them out to a moveable coop that Farmer Dave built a few years ago.  They’ll get a fresh patch of grass every day as we pull their coop around the yard.  While they mow and fertilize our grass, they will also develop high-quality meat for our freezer.  They grow so quickly that they’ll be ready for processing by mid-September.  It’s really a pretty good system, and I’m thankful we can do it.

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With this morning’s cool temps, these little fluffballs were happy for the heat lamp once I got them home.

Life does not always bring us what we order, but there is always beauty and blessing all around.  While my days just got even busier with these new arrivals, they also got more full.  New life is a beautiful thing, and I take great delight in caring for babies.  In addition to that, we have the hope of quality meat for our freezer and more hens to lay eggs.  We can also look forward to learning new things and sharpening old skills.

Every day brings opportunities that are a gift.  There is a tendency for us to view many of life’s opportunities as burdens.  Or, we can get so caught up in our responsibilities that we race through each day as though our sole purpose is merely to meet each obligation.  The best option is to give thanks for these opportunities and allow them to grow us closer to the Lord and to the people around us.  We really do get to make a choice.

So, today, join me in choosing gratitude.  Even if you don’t feel it, speak it.  Write down your blessings if you need to.  Start a list and add to it every day.  Call out your blessings while you’re mowing the yard or rocking the baby or driving down the road.  A grateful attitude can take a sick heart and make it well.  It can breathe life into a stagnant spirit.  It can make the difference between joy and bitterness.

Choose gratitude.

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Raccoons are Vermin

As I’ve been sharing our little farm’s recent battle against a family of marauding raccoons, I am well aware of what some of you are thinking.

They’re so cute!

They’re God’s creatures, too!

They’re just doing what they’ve been created to do!

I get it.  I really do.  I like sweet, fluffy animals as much as the next person (Actually, I like them more than a lot of people I know.), but we don’t have room on our farm for chicken-eating, egg-sucking predators!  A family of raccoons can wipe out a flock of 20 chickens in just a few weeks without any problem.  A gaze of coons can also decimate a quarter acre of sweet corn in about three nights.  Don’t ask me how I know that.

Raccoons are vermin.  Regardless of how cute their little masked faces are, the fact is that they are destructive.  They are cunning and sneaky and completely out of place on a working farm.  We have 20 acres of property, and they are welcome to 17 of those acres.  We will not share the rest.  We have animals to protect and food to raise for our family.  Our priorities are clear.

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A cute face and a fluffy tail do not always indicate a friend. After its attempts to rob the chicken coop were thwarted, this scoundrel was a hissing, spitting, scratching mess.

Just because raccoons look sweet and innocent, it does not mean that they are.  As my wise friend, Jenny, reminded me, “Sin is the same way.  It looks fun and maybe cute. Perhaps it appears harmless, but it is very deceiving”.  I once heard a preacher say that sin will take you further than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay and cost far more than you can ever repay.  Oh, how I know this to be true!

Just like allowing one raccoon to help himself to our laying hens has resulted in a number of raccoons terrorizing our flock, one seemingly small sin can grow into a habit that wreaks havoc in us and in our loved ones for the rest of our lives.

The easiest way to kick a harmful habit is to never start it in the first place.

The good news is that, even when we’ve been weak in an area, God provides us with a way out.  I Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful.  He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, He will provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

I love that promise!  I can just picture Jesus standing out in the pouring rain with a bright red umbrella.  He beckons us to take cover under its protection with Him, but we’ve got to be smart enough to move our feet and cozy up under the umbrella with Him.

We are not alone.  God does not ask us to recognize and overcome the vermin of this world in our own strength.  When we read His Word, spend time with godly people and lean into His Spirit, He opens our eyes to what is good for us…and what is not.

One of the prayers I’ve prayed for my kids since they were teeny-tiny is that sin will always look like sin to them.  We live in an incredibly confusing world.  Principles that have long been held as truths are now open to individual interpretation.  Feelings, more so than facts, are allowed to determine our actions.  If someone considers something “cute” or “fun”, then surely it can’t, in reality, be harmful, right?

I’m not sure who we’re trying to kid, but we certainly are confusing our children.

On our little farm, raccoons are a menace.  Warm and fuzzy solutions are not solutions at all; they only make the negative consequences more dire and far-reaching.

In our lives, sin is destructive.  Warm and fuzzy justifications or kind-hearted avoidance tactics are not solutions at all; they only make the consequences more dire and far-reaching.

Dear friends, stop being deceived by what looks to be warm and fuzzy.  Move under the promised protection of Jesus and His Truth.  Look for the red umbrella.

 

 

 

Mama Drama

Okay.  In the wee hours of this morning, I posted a brief blog about being awakened for the second night in a row to the sounds of a chicken being killed by a raccoon.  While making refrigerator pickles and performing other household tasks today, I’ve been processing last night and trying to find a solution to our situation.  I’ve also been replaying last night’s events in my head and have come to the conclusion that parts of the story were just downright funny.

First, the problem and the solution…

My younger two kids and I have put our heads together and come up with what seems like the only plausible explanation for the raccoon getting into the chickens’ coop.  Farmer Dave made the coop secure.  While the coons can get under it in a few places, there does not seem to be any place where they can get into it from underneath.  The walls are tight and the doors were closed last night.  The only possibility we can see is that the wily raccoon lifted the flap over the laying boxes and squirrelled into the coop.

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I have no doubt that raccoons are smart enough to figure out how to get in under these flaps.

If this is the case, then this should be a relatively easy fix.  We can secure the flaps through the night with bungee cords or something to hopefully keep the varmints out.  If there is another point of entry, I have no idea what it is at this point.  Maybe Farmer Dave can give it a good look when he gets home from work today.

Either way, the flaps will be secured and the live trap will be re-set tonight.  Like it or not, Rosie, our ultra-lazy watchdog, will sleep in the barn.  (Our chicken coop is actually built into our barn.)  And, I can almost guarantee that the coop doors will be shut.  This is our current plan of battle, and I’ll let you know the results–hopefully not at 3:30 tomorrow morning!

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Rosie, our reluctant raccoon dog. Good thing she’s pretty.

Second, the funny parts that were not so funny in the middle of the night…

I easily get heebie-jeebied.  I don’t know that there’s a good reason for this, but I startle exceptionally easily, and my over-active imagination often gets the better of me.  (I tell you this with complete and total trust in the hope that you will never, ever, ever use this confession against me.)  My husband says I am dangerous (and loud) in these situations and has learned to approach me with caution lest he catches me unawares.

So.  I was outside in the pitch black at 3:30 this morning with only a flashlight and my overactive imagination.  I was also very angry and in my pajamas.  (Now you can truly picture the scene for what it was.)

I noticed the coon in the live trap, and I was glad that we’d caught one, but I knew that it wasn’t the one I’d heard torturing a chicken a few moments earlier.  I kept shining my light around, trying to find the culprit on the loose, but to no avail.  I then heard the hens in the coop flying around in a panic.  I loudly yelled, “Nooooooooo!” and banged on the side of the coop in order to scare the raccoon out of there.  Chickens sleep in an almost comatose state, and it takes a good deal of excitement to wake them up at this point, so I knew that the raccoon was in the coop…or had been recently.  I had no idea how it had gotten in there and was more than a little concerned that it would come barreling out from underneath the coop and run right at me.  Heebie jeebies galore.

I opened the barn door and turned on the light, then banged on the side of the coop again.  I heard more squawking and flapping, but didn’t hear any scratching or other sounds I considered to be from a raccoon.  I worked up considerable courage to partially lift the flap over the nesting box to shine my flashlight in for a clearer assessment.  This was remarkable bravery for me.  I truly anticipated a snarling raccoon with shining green eyes to be staring at me once I lifted the flap, but no.  There were just roosting hens.  I shone my light around the feather-littered floor of the coop and saw what appeared to be two dead Black Australorps.  “Noooooooo!” I again yelled.  The Black Australorps moved.  Not dead after all.  Not even injured.  Just freaked out from all of the banging and yelling, I’m sure.

I then screwed up my courage and lifted the flap over the other nesting box.  Still no coon.

Only one more test was necessary to confirm that the coop was clear, and that was to open the door and walk in so that I could see the entire space all at one time.  Folks, I won’t sugar-coat it:  My bravado was just about maxed out.  After a quick prayer and a fleeting consideration to rabies, I cracked open the door and peeked.  Nothing.  Wider, still nothing.  Nothing but chickens.  The coast was clear.

Now, I knew that a coon had been in there, and I knew that it still might be around, so I backtracked my way back out of the barn carefully, my senses still on high alert.  After getting back out into the night air, I decided to walk around to the other side of the barn to see if perhaps the raccoon had abandoned the chicken in fear of my top-of-the-food-chain presence.  Nope.  Nothing.

I relaxed.

As I walked back around the barn to head toward the house, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the light from my flashlight reflect on some metal.  It was a man standing in the dark with a gun.  No, I am not even kidding!  I screamed bloody murder, and all but dropped to all four in the grass in a heap.  And, I ain’t gonna lie; I almost wet my pajama pants.

The reality is that my 14-year-old son, who is looking more like a man than a boy these days, heard all of the banging and yelling and came out to see if he could help…with his .22.  It took my mind a split second to register all of these facts, but my physical body was well behind in its recovery.  It was very…um…dramatic.

Needless to say, my scream woke my husband (and, quite possibly, the neighbors), who started yelling out the window to see what was the matter.  At this point, I was almost in tears, and I meekly mumbled that I was fine as I walked in front of the house and headed back to bed.

It was a long night.

Remarkably, my daughters slept through it all.

Back for More

It’s been a bad week for chickens here at Country Haven.

I was once again awakened at 3:00 this morning by a chicken calling for help.  Rosie once again refused to accompany me to the barn.  I was once again too late to save our bird.

The coop door had been closed, but the raccoon had somehow gotten inside.  This is the first time we’ve had this problem in the coop, and the wheels in my head are turning to figure out a solution.  I just can’t stop thinking about those poor birds out there.  Sitting ducks!  They were so flighty and nervous out there tonight; I bet egg production will be at fifty percent this week.  Can’t say as I blame them.  Most of us are much more productive when we aren’t under attack.

The good news is that there is one raccoon in the live trap we set.  This means that we’re making progress.  I don’t look forward to dealing with it in the morning, but it has to be done.  For now, it can sit out there and think about what it’s done.  Thieving varmint.

Do you remember what I said about the raccoons would be back…with diligence…and in greater numbers?  Even though we had shut the door, those critters are back and willing to work a bit for what had started as a free meal.  It’s a lot more difficult to get rid of them once they’ve seen a weakness.  Just like sin.  We invite it in, sometimes unintentionally but carelessly, and it grows.  Each day that it goes unchecked is a day that it grows in strength.

So, tomorrow will be a day of dealing with the consequences.  Get rid of our catch. Secure the coop.  Re-set the trap.  Make sure to put Rosie in the barn before bed.

 

Shut the Door!

I am so mad.

It is almost 3:30 in the morning, and I can’t sleep.  My mind is whirring, my blood is pounding, and I am mad, mad, mad!

About an hour ago, I was awakened by a terrified squawking from one of our chickens.  As soon as the sound registered in my sleep-drugged brain, I slipped on my shoes, grabbed a flashlight and ran out to the barn, calling for our dog, Rosie, the whole way.  Sure enough, there was a raccoon with one of our Black Australorps.

I yelled at it while it just stared at me, dying hen at its feet.  Ugh!  We were separated by two rows of fencing, and I had nothing with which to do battle.  (Though I confess that I fought the urge to hurl Dave’s new-from-Christmas heavy-duty Maglite at the thieving varmint!)  I yelled at the raccoon again, and it slowly sauntered off…choosing to hide under the coop.

Great.  The enemy is now camping out under the very foundation of its prey.

Just as I suspected, the chickens had not been properly tucked in last night.  Despite the fact that our neighbors just lost two young birds…and it’s most assuredly peak raccoon season…and reminders had been given, we had left the henhouse wide open.

With one last look at my now-dead hen, I shut the flap door on the coop.  On a hunch, I checked the garage on my way back to the house.  Sure enough, Rosie was still cozily curled up in her favorite spot.  She had completely ignored my calls for help.  She pulled back her ears and wagged her tail guiltily when I found her, and she refused to make eye contact when I quietly scolded her.

Dave asked if I was all right as I crawled back into bed, and I briefly gave him the synopsis.  He groggily commiserated with me, rolled over and was soon snoring.

But I couldn’t go back to sleep.  I was just plain mad…and I was mostly mad at the raccoon!  It was out there right now enjoying its middle-of-the-night meal!  As the wheels in my heard turned the situation over, I wondered at my position.  Why was I so angry at a raccoon?

We had left the door wide open.

No matter what excuses are made, we were ultimately the ones to blame.  The death of that hen is our fault, not the raccoon’s.  If we’d done what we needed to do to protect our flock, that Black Australorp and I would be both fast asleep right now.

There’s a proverb that speaks to this situation:  Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.  (Proverbs 25:28)

Ahem.

We lacked the foresight, the discipline, the self-control to secure our property last night, and the result was death.  And, beyond that, the raccoons will be back.  Once they know that a meal can be had, they will diligently return in greater numbers until the flock is completely wiped out…or until we stop them.  And, to be honest, the most effective method is not just shutting the flap before we go to bed.  The predators will increase in boldness, watching for opportunities at dusk and dawn when the chickens have been released.  We must trap and kill the raccoons to stop the problem.  More death will result.

I wish I could say that my lack of self-control has only wreaked havoc in the henhouse.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.  When we neglect to nurture self-control, our lives are opened up to all kinds of mayhem.  If you’re like me, you often respond in anger toward the situation before you face the truth that your own action (or inaction) have put you in this position.  Its price takes an especially high toll when the consequences are paid by the people we love.  If you think about it, virtually every broken relationship stems from someone’s lack of self-control.  Addiction.  Verbal assault.  Betrayal.  Disrespect.

We–and our entire families–are made vulnerable when we fail to practice the basic tenets of self-discipline.  That’s a hard truth, isn’t it?

It’s also hard to admit that, once we’ve opened the door just once, the opposition digs in its claws and becomes stronger.  Sin grows, folks.  Whether we’re talking about abusing a substance, watching trash, speaking harshly, spreading a rumor or overeating, sin grows.  The more room we give it in our lives, the more room it takes, eventually claiming space in the lives of the people we love.  Maybe we knew we should shut the door, we wanted to shut the door, we really did mean to shut the door…but we left it wide open.

Dear friends, what door are you leaving wide open in your life right now?  What price are you asking your loved ones to pay?  What guilty pleasure is no longer worth the cost?  The door can still be shut.  The predator can still be stopped.  The prey can still be protected.  Stop making excuses.  Stop justifying sin.  Sleep in the peace you’ve been offered.  Resolve to shut that door!

Heavenly Father, You know what doors we need to close, and You freely offer us Your strength to close them.  Please help us choose what is right over what seems easy.  One step at a time.  Thank You for the fruit of Your Spirit and for the healing You bring.

Cutting Back

I spent most of my morning weed-eating my garden.

Ack.

Between dysfunctional tillers, time away from our farm and lots and lots of rain, the weeds are quickly taking over.  With all of the rain we’ve gotten in the past 48 hours (more than 3″), the garden was too wet for me to even get our push mower in between the rows.  So, I figured weed-eating would be a good alternative.  I guess there’s a first time for everything.

I think I was able to save most of our crops, aside from our kale and Swiss chard.  Fortunately, there is time to re-plant them and still enjoy a harvest.  One of our plantings of beets is a little iffy; let’s hope they rebound, because they’re one of our favorites.

Before yet another pop-up thunderstorm sent me scurrying to the house, I also worked at pruning our tomato plants.  Each year, we try to remove every downward limb on every plant to allow more sunlight into the center of the vine.  This also makes harvesting easier on both us and the fruit.  It’s always a bummer to have to practically juice a tomato just to get it of where it’s been wedged between interior branches.  Pruning is frustrating to me because, if we wait long enough, I end up pruning branches that have little yellow blossoms or even tiny green tomatoes already started.  It seems like such a waste to throw them out!  The truth is, though, that eliminating these little starts actually increases the harvest.  The tomatoes are likely to be bigger and of a better quality than they would be if we left all of those downward branches to bear.  Plus, a lot of the fruit would just be more difficult to harvest.

Jesus spoke a lot about garden stuff.  He is the vine and we are the branches.  Sometimes there are things growing in our lives that need to be cut back.  When we allow Him to “prune” some of the activities/habits/behaviors that drain us of valuable energy, He will often give us a higher yield of quality “fruit”.  The Bible says that the fruits of His Spirit are things like love, joy, peace, patience and self-control.  There’s not a person I know who couldn’t use more of some of those things at one time or another.

As I was weeding and pruning today, I was reminded that I have been planted, by God, to yield a good harvest.  It’s one He has prepared for me, and He is equipping me for that yield daily.  When I spend time with Him, He is planting His truths in my heart, plucking harmful lies from my mind and pruning the unnecessary out of my life.  These lessons He teaches me aren’t always comfortable (some are downright painful!), and sometimes (okay, many times) I must let go of something that is good before I am able to gain something that is better.  This process is one of the conundrums of the Christian faith.  The Bible calls it dying to ourselves.  It comes with the understanding that Christ can shine brighter when we step out of His way.

Lord, please help me to step out of Your way.  I see so many things that can be done in and through my life, but I acknowledge that I certainly don’t see everything…and I may not always see the best thing.  I submit myself to You again today.  Grow in me something so beautiful that the world will know that only You could have possibly grown it.

 

Beyond High School

As I’ve shared already, our first child has officially graduated from Country Haven Homeschool.  We are super proud of her, and we know that God has a beautiful plan and purpose for her life.  We pray that, while she enters this new phase of her life, that she enters it with eyes wide open and fixed on Christ.

From the time our children were little, we have told them that we will support whatever they want to do and whoever they want to be as long as they honor the Lord.  (At age 5, our son wanted to be a “wrestler who loves Jesus”.  Since then, he seems to have changed his mind.)  We know that college isn’t for everyone.  While I don’t regret getting a bachelor’s degree, I could certainly do what I’m doing now without one.  And my husband, who has a master’s degree, didn’t even go to college until he was in his late 20s.

We have never made college an expectation for our children.  And, to be honest, if they’re not sure what they want to do, we’d just as soon they earn money instead of spend money.  College expenses come too dear to just experiment.  Not only that, but there seems to be a false sense of security in many who earn their degrees.  Lots of 20-somethings leave college with the expectation that their dream job with dream salary are entitled to them…and they’re not.  In spite of sending out oodles of career-oriented resumes, my husband’s first jobs out of Grad School?  Landscaping high-end homes and waiting tables at a steak house chain.  As you can imagine, these were not what we were expecting…but he committed to them while we waited for something in his field.  I’m thankful my husband has never been too proud to work.

College debt is a scary thing.  Due to scholarships, help from my mom, working 40 hours a week and a fantastic Financial Aid department, I graduated without college debt.  My husband was not so fortunate.  The debt seemed like a lot at the time, but it was nothing compared to today’s price tag.  He also worked full-time throughout his six years of secondary education.

We’ve always told our kids that they will be responsible for their own college costs.  This is something my mom taught me.  Her experience was that, generally speaking, the greater a person’s investment, the higher their commitment.  She’s right.  She helped me when she could, but she told me to not count on her.  This made all that she gave me seem more like a gift than a right.  I still appreciate the sacrifices she made for me to go away to school.

To help our kids, we are trying to teach them good stewardship now.  We want them to know how to work hard and to be reliable.  We do our best to provide them with opportunities to earn money now so that they can stash it for later.  No matter what God calls them to do, the money they earn and save now will make those big life decisions easier later.  They have worked hard for much of what they have, and I pray that they use it wisely.

The bottom line is that we have attempted to instill in our children the fact that we love them no matter what.  Whether they decide to go into a skilled trade, work at a local library, become a pediatric nurse or stay home with their children, we know that they can be used by God to make a difference in this world for Him.  And that, more than anything, is what we’re called to do.